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HMC ending mass vaccination PODs

  • Krystle Marcellus receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccine event on March 13 at Edith Kanakaole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo. (KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald)

Hilo Medical Center is winding down its mass vaccination efforts as demand for COVID-19 vaccines begins to wane.

“May 15 will be our last mass vaccination clinic,” hospital spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said Monday.

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The hospital had increased the number of doses administered at each of its clinics since hosting its first one in February. More than 5,100 shots were administered at an April 3 clinic.

However, only 4,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were given Saturday at HMC’s fourth mass vaccination POD, or point of dispensing.

“We had expected demand to be a little bit higher for this last clinic,” Cabatu said, adding that HMC is adjusting to demand.

Discussions are ongoing, but Cabatu said the hospital will transition those seeking an inoculation to its regular vaccination clinic at the Arc of Hilo.

“That does not mean that the importance of getting the vaccine is less,” Cabatu said of the adjustment. “It’s still very important to get the vaccine. In fact … working on the (hospital’s vaccine helpline), I’m seeing those who are somewhat hesitant … come off the fence and get it.”

With vaccines now available to anyone 16 and older, HMC had worked to educate younger cohorts about the availability ahead of last Saturday’s clinic.

Cabatu said 488 people ages 16-18 received a vaccine on Saturday.

“I think we had hoped for more signups from that age group,” she said, adding that the hospital tried to let those individuals know they could be fully vaccinated, and therefore be ready for summer trips, by the end of May.

Pfizer is the only vaccine available for children 16 and 17.

Vaccines from Moderna and Johnson &Johnson are available to adults 18 and older.

Some 495 individuals in their 20s and 502 in their 30s received doses Saturday at HMC’s clinic.

Most vaccines at the clinic, however, went to those 40 and older, according to Cabatu, with 929 people in their 60s getting the inoculation.

About 1,000 first doses were administered Saturday.

HMC aims to vaccinate 2,000 at its final mass vaccination POD from 8 a.m. to noon on May 15.

Cabatu said HMC will offer first and second doses at that clinic.

During a livestream Monday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a Big Island physician, said that because of the island’s size, there is difficulty getting vaccines into some rural areas.

Green said the state Department of Health will be doing mobile vaccinations in rural communities.

“They want to get out to places like Pahala where they did a recent vaccination date, and they’ll follow up with a second date,” he said. “But, it’s going to take a lot of that, because it’s an hour drive from some parts of the south all the way up into Hilo or Kona.”

Green, however, said there was still “very good demand” for vaccines when he visited Hilo last week.

“We just saw a lot of different people coming in that hadn’t done it before,” he said. “Some old, no question. They were waiting, they had reasons they couldn’t get it before. … Then we had this young group of people, people who are 17, 18, 23, 27, who only recently had been offered the shot and were now scheduled.”

Green said another surge of interest in vaccinations could come if a request from Pfizer for use of its vaccine in children 12-15 is approved.

Although he’d like the state to reach herd immunity by July 4, Green said noted there parts of the community more reluctant to accept western medicine, vaccinations or certain treatments.

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“Most people will get vaccinated, but it might be 10%-15% more that don’t in certain rural areas,” he said. “And that’s always a problem when you’re looking at public health initiatives, but it’s something we respect. If people have a different belief system, we respect that in Hawaii, and we’ll do what’s necessary to encourage other individuals to get vaccinated so that we reach the threshold.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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